The last time I saw my father I was twelve years old. Before boarding the airplane that would return me to the home of my mother and step-father, I had sat on the edge of my father’s bed, next to him, upset and uncertain.
We were nearing the end of my second six-week visit back to California from my new home in Iowa, and for reasons I cannot now remember, I told my father that I would not likely return.
I kept my eyes fixed on the floor. Not on him. I didn’t want to look at him because he had done nothing wrong and I didn’t want to return.
Looking back, I figure the separation of my parents, now half-the-country apart, had pulled me too much in opposite directions. I could no longer handle the distance between their worlds, floating above the chasm, and so I picked one to avoid a messy fall.
I will not see my father again. He died this past December.
I wouldn’t say there was any animosity between us, but we were estranged. Our relationship wasn’t bad; it just wasn’t. You could say that I had fallen away from my faith in him. After my departure, we spoke on the phone, at first occasionally and then rarely, and then we lost touch. Moves from state to state meant the loss of current contact information, and neither one of us made any effort to locate the other.
A moment’s reconnection a few years ago lasted only a moment. We talked amicably, bringing each other up to speed on our lives. Jobs. College. Children. Assisted living. Having reconnected, where would we go? Seemingly nowhere. The distance between us remained too great for either of us to devote time to bridging the gap.
We had one call, some interaction on Facebook, but there will be no more bonding.
If a funeral service was held for him, I did not attend it. I learned of his passing a couple weeks after the fact. I didn’t grieve. Perhaps we were still too distant for grief.
I could blame my dad for not calling me after I called him this last time, but then I didn’t pick up the phone to call him when I could have. Many perfect opportunities now lost to time. I’m as much to blame for the failure of us. I even told him that I wanted to reestablish a regular relationship. I meant it, but I didn’t make any effort to make it happen. I thought “Later,” which is what I always thought over the years. Later. Always later. But now there will be no later. Only regret that I hope doesn’t fade. Memories and regret are about all I have.
I have two children still with us–a son and a daughter. They are very loving, to each other and to their mother and me. Unless they’re moody. Being kids, six and two, this happens. I don’t take it personally when one or both refuses a goodnight hug, but I’m afraid now, afraid that I will fail as a father the way I failed as a son. I tell my children of my love and about my love, several times daily, but what will happen when they move away? Will we remain close? Will strife separate us? Or will we simply drift apart as my father and I did? Terrifying questions, these.
I can tell you that I hope with all my heart that a bond of love will unite me with each of my children, always as it does now, but the future is too far away for me to see clearly, and time waits for none of us. Each day is one day less to love without the constraints to time. I chose not to take those passing days to grow close again to my father. I pray that I will choose otherwise with my children. I pray that they will not repeat my mistakes and share in my regret.
When I look now into their eyes I see their faith and love and hope in me. I cannot bear the thought that this light in their eyes may fade, but I owe it to myself and to them to do everything I can to keep it alive. I dearly wish I had a guaranteed course of action, but where freedom and family are concerned, there are no guarantees. No certainty. Only ever fleeting chances for bonding and reconciliation.
If all that separates you from family is the distance of silence and time, take those chances.
Please take them.